An Assessment of Trace Element Accumulation in Palm Oil Production


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African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is grown on 17,000,000 hectares in Southeast Asia, producing oil and the by-product, palm kernel expeller (PKE), for export. Elaeis guineensis is typically produced on weathered acidic soils, with fertilisers and fungicides used to increase production. These amendments can contain elevated concentrations of trace elements (TEs), either as the active ingredient (e.g., Cu-based fungicides) or as contaminants, including F, Zn, As, Cd, Pb and U. TEs may accumulate in soil over time, and be taken up by plants, posing a food-chain transfer risk if allowed to exceed soil guideline values. We reviewed available literature on trace elements in soil, plant material, oil and PKE to evaluate the risk of TE accumulation due to phosphate fertiliser and Cu-fungicide use. TE concentrations of Cu, Zn, and Cd were reported to be up to 69, 107 and 5.2 mg kg(-1), respectively, in E. guineensis plantation soils, while Cu and As were reported to be up to 28.9 and 3.05 mg kg(-1), respectively, in PKE (>50% their permissible limits). Iron, a TE, has also been reported in PKE up to 6130 mg kg(-1) (>10-fold the permissible limit). TE accumulation is an emerging issue for the palm oil industry, which, if unaddressed, will negatively affect the industry's economic and environmental sustainability. There are critical knowledge gaps concerning TEs in palm oil systems, including a general lack of research from Southeast Asian environments and information concerning key contaminants (Fe, Cu, As and Cd) in soils, plants and PKE.
copper, Elaeis guineensis, fertiliser contaminants, heavy metals, palm kernel expeller
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